I held my eyes shut and just let go of everything. I just wanted to rest for a bit. Even if I couldn't sleep I wanted to just lay still for a little bit.
My whole body hurt.
I was pretty sure that I wasn't bleeding anymore, but my body was probably as red as a tomato.
Thankfully most of the pain had faded, but the limbs that I lost during the fight had probably not regenerated yet.
[How are you feeling Alicia?]
[Mmm...it really hurt...]
[Sorry, but I couldn't think of anything better under that much pressure.]
[No, it's not your fault. It's his.]
Speaking of which, the ashed remains of that bastard was still covering my body.
On a certain level, it felt like he successfully molested me in the end, even if it did cost him his life.
On the other side of the shadow cocoon I had encased myself in, something that felt like a sound was lightly vibrating against its surface. On occasion there was some light tapping as well.
When I actually payed attention to my senses, there was a familiar presence hovering over my little sanctuary.
Carefully paying attention to my orientation, I opened a hole on what I estimated was the western side and rolled my body so that my head was pointing that way.
Claret popped her face over the entrance. There were tears running down her face and her expression was full of relief. Her mouth moved, but no sounds reached my ears.
It took me a moment to remember the sort of damage my body had suffered during that battle. Now that the threat to my life was over, it wasn't a big deal, but it was inconvenient.
[Sorry, I can't hear you Claret. Could you go bring me my bag?]
[Yes Master! Right away!]
The dark spirit rushed off at full speed.
In the meantime I expanded my shelter and pushed off my one arm to reorient myself to a sitting position before Claret got back.
It was only then that I realized the extent of the damage to my body.
Of course my right arm was gone. A bit below my shoulder it simply ended as a stump due to how much I was channelling my [Solar Magic] through it.
Most of my body was in surprisingly good shape, only a bunch of black spots corresponding with bruises and what felt like a few broken ribs. Pretty mild all things considered. But what could be said for my torso couldn't be said for my legs.
Or rather, more accurately, the stumps that stuck out from my pelvis. Everything from my upper thighs down was gone.
I hadn't really noticed due to the pain from the sunburns I was dealing with, but when he raked at my legs with his feet claws, he really did a number on me. It made me real glad that I avoided close combat with him so much.
Forcing my eyes away from my legs, or rather, where my legs should be, I quickly scanned my left arm. Fortunately there wasn't much damage there. Just some traces of a few scratches and a single missing finger. Most likely it got torn off while I was dealing with the bone fragments inside that bastard's arm.
Finally, I glanced at my HP.
Considering that this was how much I had after recovering a bit from my light regeneration skill masked with the name [Sunlight Vulnerability], I might have gotten closer to death than ever before. A little over 5% HP was putting things quite tight.
If I could, I wanted to avoid such a dangerous encounter for the rest of my life, but a part of me thought that such a thing wouldn't be possible.
[Ah, don't worry, it's not as bad as it looks.]
The lying was quite blatant and might not even fool Alicia, but it was enough to calm down Claret, at least a little. The level of trust she had hurt a little, but preventing her from panicking was the top priority.
[Now give me my bag. And can you hold on to my so I don't fall over?]
Handing me over the plush bunny bag, I saw that despite everything, there wasn't any signs of obvious damage on it. It was just a dirty. This thing really was quite amazing.
As my trusty familiar held my right shoulder so I wouldn't lose my balance, I shoved my hand down the bunny's throat and fished out the thing I was looking for almost immediately.
A large clay jar wider than the throat of the bunny shaped bag came out smoothly and to little effort despite the fact that it probably weighed at least half as much as I did at that moment. And without waiting a moment, I brought the open rim to my lips and chugged the contents like my life depended on it.
In a sense, it kinda did.
The blood that filled the container poured down my throat so quickly that I grew a little concerned about spilling some of it. But rather than reduce the flow, I simply put in more effort into swallowing it all.
I was sure that this blood was nothing more than that of a charge boar, yet it tasted amazing, like it somehow ranked up there amongst the best blood I've ever had.
It was obvious that it was because my body was craving nutrition to fix itself up, but still, if felt like even if I wasn't so hungry I would've wanted to gorge myself out on this blood.
As I fed on the unusually delicious blood, I felt the bones in my body knit themselves back together, the pain from various bruises and scratches fade, and my limbs slowly regrew themselves.
It didn't take long for the jar of blood, twice the size of my head, to empty.
I tossed the empty jar aside and pulled out another one, bringing it to my lips and started to chug once again.
(Maybe a hornbull this time?)
Despite the change, the blood continued to taste amazing as well.
In the end, it took a third jar before my HP had fully recovered and all traces of damage had gone. Aside from my clothes. Most of that was just plain ruined.
My shirt was torn to shreds, and almost all of the legs of my pants were missing entirely.
Fortunately, there were still a few articles that should have survived this battle, and I had spares to replace what was destroyed.
"Claret, could you go find my things?"
Now that I was fully healed, there wasn't any need to talk to her with telepathy.
"Right away Master!"
Like a puppy running off to fetch that red ball in the grass, Claret rushed off to search through the scattered debris. I just hoped that she was going to have better progress than those dogs tend to.
While she went off to get my things, I stood up and stretched my body, doing one last chest to make sure that everything was as it should
It felt good to be whole again.
And just like a puppy wanting attention, that dark spirit of mine came back with her arms filled with things.
"I'm sorry, I don't think I found everything. I'll go and have another look."
Handing me the things, she turned to go and search again.
"No, this is good enough. You don't need to do any more."
I started to go through the things she gathered for me. My robes were obvious, as were my boots. But on top of it all were pieces of shredded cloth.
There really wasn't any need for the torn bits at all, but throwing it away might make Claret feel bad. I should've just specified in the first place.
Looking up, her eyes were filled with some sort of expectation.
Or maybe not, but it just felt like it.
Reaching my hand up, I plopped it on top of her head. My familiar froze for a moment, but as I started to rub her hair a lazy grin emerged on her face.
Maybe it was just me, but petting the head of a woman both taller and many times older than myself felt strange, but it was hard to argue when she clearly enjoyed it so much. It might be best to make this a habit for the future.
I continued at it as she pressed her head into my hand, but eventually I had to stop, even though she gave me some sort of restrained puppy dog eyes when I did.
(She really is supposed to be hundreds of years old, right?)
I couldn't help but think that Alicia was more mature than her.
Separating the things that Claret had collected for me, the scraps went into my bag for future disposal when she wasn't looking.
I next pulled my robes on. Even though I was still hiding behind my shadow shelter, the black spider silk on my skin felt many times more reassuring. The thought that I might not be able to live without these robes passed my mind, but I shook it away. It didn't really matter if it did happen or not.
Lastly were my boots.
For some reason, there was something inside of them. I undid the laces and pulled out what was inside.
In a panic, I almost threw the boots away, but managed to hold myself back.
What came out were a pair of feet. My feet, actually, but it didn't make it any less creepy having disembodied feet come out of a pair of boots.
(...Actually, that makes it even more creepy.)
Taking those feet in hand, I threw them outside of the influence of my shadow and watched as they turned red, then black, then white before crumbling.
When I looked at Claret after she made such an exclamation, her face had an expression of regret, like what I just did was a waste.
(She didn't...want them for herself, did she?)
That wasn't exactly something I wanted my familiar to think, but I couldn't think of anything else that would have crossed her mind. On top of that, she probably wasn't thinking of eating or otherwise using those feet, so the only other option was to keep them as some sort of souvenir or collection.
I shook such thoughts from my head and put my boots on.
It was nice that my boots managed to survive. Walking bare foot wasn't that pleasant after all.
Now that I was ready to move on, I did a quick check on [Sense Presence]. Below us, there was still a whole ton of hits. For the most part they haven't moved since the last time I checked them, as far as I could tell at least.
The adventurer group on the other hand were out of range. I couldn't sense any trace of them.
After that, there wasn't anything notable within range.
Since there wasn't any point in chasing after the adventurers, the next logical step was to check out the village survivors.
The numbers I could sense felt quite low compared to what the population I had expected from that village, but it was possible that I was just overestimating the population, or miscounting the number of people below.
The only way to know was to go and check it out.
But before that, I had something I wanted to know.
"I'm not trying to admonish you or anything, but how come it took you so long to get here after I called?"
In theory it shouldn't have taken her long at all. A couple of minutes at least, yet she took until the end of the fight before getting to us after our fight started only a little while after everyone left the building. Even taking into consideration that my perception of time was warped due to how fast everything moved in such a high level battle, that couldn't have explained everything.
"I'm sorry. I found a few more of those people trying to help that bad vampire. It took me a little time to deal with all of them."
"Ah, I see. You did a good job. Thanks."
Once again I gave her head a quick pat and her eyes half closed for a moment.
Now that I thought about it, I didn't sense any presences on the ground floor. It was unfortunate, but all the people who attacked us here were probably dead.
"Alright, well, let's go check out those survivors then."
[I hope they're doing well.]
"I do too. I do too."
With those words, I opened a hole in the stone floor below me and dropped down to the lower floor, Claret floating down after me before she took her usual place on my shoulders.
We landed in a dark room, though thanks to the hole I had made, there was enough light to see without issue. Even still, I retracted my shadow since I didn't need it anymore and the room grew that much brighter now that even less of the sunlight from above was blocked.
The room was decently large and was filled with all sorts of bags and crates. Many of them were empty or broken, but there was still a large number of them that looked mostly untouched.
I opened one of the bags and had a look.
The bag was filled with a whitish powder, most likely flour.
"Looks like this is their storeroom."
[Then are these the things they stole from the village?]
"Probably some of it at least."
There was probably no way to determine for sure. Chances were, not even the villagers had a clear idea of what was stolen. But unless if there was a claim from somewhere else, we might as well presume that it all belonged to them.
Taking it all with me to carry on behalf of the villagers wouldn't be difficult thanks to my magic bag, but it was best to wait until I had found all the surviving villagers first and discussed things with them.
To my left was a door, made of stone like all the rest.
With a little bit of fiddling and some force, I managed to make it open with a low grinding sound. There wasn't any locks or anything, but it was just simply heavy. Maybe too heavy for anyone normal to open by themself at least.
I was greeted to a hallway.
There were some candles on the walls lighting the way, but even then the hall was very dim. Probably too dim for a normal person to traverse.
Taking advantage of my [Sense Presence] skill, I took a left and followed the hall towards the largest concentration of presences.
After only a short while, I was greeted with a large double door with a stone crossbeam keeping it shut.
Since I didn't know the layout of this building, I wasn't entirely sure if this was the room where most of the presences were in, but the way they were scattered around, it really felt like it at least.
The crossbeam was fitted into a loose pair of hooks and wasn't difficult to remove, though it was a little heavy. A little for me that was. It probably took two to lift it without risking hurting someone, but it was still light enough for me to move out of the way with a single arm if it wasn't too thick for me to get a firm grip on without risking breaking the thing.
Placing the beam aside, I slowly opened the door and was immediately greeted with a terrible scent.
The air was very stale, and was filled with the scent of bodily waste and sweat.
It was so thick that I wanted to puke, yet I did my best to endure as I entered.
Inside, there wasn't even any candles to illuminate the room. Instead, there were a few holes on the far side letting a bit of sunlight in and allowing a certain amount of air to circulate, but it wasn't even starting to be enough to do a proper job of keeping the air fresh.
But that was entirely secondary to what I saw.
It was bodies. Body after body of people laying around in the nude.
Some were huddled together, others were alone, lying lifelessly.
But aside from a few babies I could see in some of the people's arms, there was a single commonality that was hard to miss: they were all women. And almost all of them were relatively young women at that.
There were no children or elderly, and definitely no men.
The sight gave me a terribly bad feeling that made me want to grab my gut and topple over into the fetal position, but I did my best to put it aside and get to more important things.
While I didn't have any issues with it, considering that nobody else here was a vampire, it was best to light the room up a little. So I created a cloud of plasma along the ceiling and heated it up enough that it glowed. Underneath that layer of heated plasma, I created a thin layer of near vacuum to insulate the hot gasses with the rest of the room.
With the sudden brightening of the room, quite a few of the woman looked up at the new source of light. Some of the closest women noticed and looked at me with eyes full of caution.
"I'm here to help! I've come with a team investigating the disappearance of the villagers at a nearby settlement."
Light of recognition and hope appeared in the eyes of those who were looking my way, and many others turned at my words. But it didn't pass my notice that there were still more that hadn't reacted at all.
"How can we trust you. You look just like the others."
Thinking about it, it was true. My outfit was quite similar. I couldn't really say I was particularly fashion conscious in the first place, but this was the first time that fact hurt me as badly as this.
"Ah, well, I suppose I do dress in a similar way, but until the others get here, I guess all I can ask is for you to trust me a bit?"
I hadn't really thought this entire rescue thing through it seemed. I hadn't expected to show up on my own so I didn't exactly have any way to prove I was who I claimed I was.
I had to earn these people's trust all on my own.
Pulling down my hood, I tried to give them the gentlest smile I could.
"I know I don't look very trustworthy, but I really do mean to help. If you still can't at least believe that much, you can always leave on your own. I won't stop anyone who does, though I won't follow you either, so you'll be on your own unless if you change your mind."
I stepped aside to show that I really meant it. Though I hoped that none of them would take me up for that offer. Keeping everyone here until the others return would be for the best.
"She won't really try to stop us?"
"Maybe she really means it?"
"Maybe she's telling the truth?"
"She might be dressed the same, but that elf lady doesn't really look like them at all."
The people started to whisper amongst themselves, though I didn't have much trouble hearing a lot of it.
It sounded like my gesture of sincerity was working and they were at least willing to try trusting me for the meantime.
"That's not an elf. Look at her eyes. They're red! She's a vampire!"
I had forgotten to change my features back. A quick check with my tongue had confirmed that my fangs were still around as well.
It didn't take long before all those looks of trust faded in an instant and were replaced with nothing but fear and hostility.
"Umm...it's true I'm a vampire. I won't deny that. But you know, just like how there's good and bad people in any settlement, there's good and bad vampires too. Can you believe at least that?"
There was a bit of murmuring, but as expected, there wasn't any hint of their wariness fading. Things weren't going to be so simple.
"Anyways, the others went back to get reinforcements, so it'll be a little while before they get back."
"What about the other vampire?"
"Ah, that guy? He's dead. I only wish I was strong enough that I could've made him pay for the things that damn pillock did."
Really. Considering the things he suggested he did, he should have gotten something far worse than simply being killed in battle. A proper execution after being jailed for a century for example.
"You...really killed him?"
Maybe it was the shock of hearing such a thing, but it took a little while before anyone responded.
"I did, though not without help."
[Do you want to show yourself Claret?]
"No. You're the one who deserves all the credit Master. I hardly did anything."
[That doesn't diminish what you did.]
"I'm your familiar. My achievements all belong to you."
[...I think you and I are going to have to talk about these sorts of thing someday.]
When I looked to my side, the expression I saw on the dark spirit's face was nothing but disinterest when it came to this subject. While I couldn't really say I wasn't also one to be at fault for not taking credit when it was due, but I didn't like taking other people's credit even more.
[Alicia? Sorry, but talking about your contributions will just make things more difficult to explain.]
[No, it's fine. I only showed you that bad man's information. It wasn't much.]
[It was still helpful, and I'm grateful for what you did.]
I only wished Claret could learn from Alicia at times like that.
While I was talking to my two dear companions, the other people were murmuring to each other. A mix of emotions swept through the group, from surprise to disbelief, anger to sorrow, but overall it centred on relief.
It seemed like after all the noise we made, this bit was more believable to these people.